Julie-Anne Thorne is a holistic cat therapist, intuitive and behaviourist from Plymouth, Devon (UK) who is passionate about educating cat guardians and who can help cats with issues such as anxiety, fear behaviours, overgrooming, and much more. She reflects, among other things, on why cats were a safe space for her growing up and why would a cat parent need her expertise.
Julie-Anne, how do you define yourself?
I’m a cat mum, holistic cat therapist, empath, behaviourist and cat advocate.
What is veganism for you?
I believe that I can communicate with animals and that they are sentient beings which is why I choose not to eat them or products containing any animal parts. Vegetarianism and veganism, in my opinion, is about making the best choice you can in the current moment. I don’t believe in criticising people if they eat meat or animal products now and again and still call themselves a vegetarian/vegan. The world is a tough place and I believe that we all do the best we can in that moment.
You have a passion for cats and an innate understanding of what makes them tick. Would you say it’s a gift? Have you always loved cats? Also, what made you decide to go into cat therapy and psychology?
Yes it is a gift and I thank the universe for it every single day. I am honoured to have the capacity to connect with such a beautiful species. I have always loved cats, we have always had them in my family. My mum, dad, aunties and even grandparents. Cats were a safe space for me growing up. I didn’t know at the time but being an introvert and an empath meant that I struggled being around others. It was safe to be with cats. It was calming, loving and there were no expectations of me. I felt deeply connected and accepted by cats. When I chose my A-Levels I was really interested in Psychology, I liked to understand people. When I had my first cat after graduating from University, Pickle, she was very poorly over the years. She inspired me to train in additional complementary and alternative therapies to support her health and wellbeing. I decided to pull all of my experience together and created Naturally Cats.
What personal qualities and qualifications does a person need to be(come) a cat holistic therapist?
There is no prescribed list – it’s not like you can look for this job on a career’s website… yet! I would recommend people break down what they are interested in and become certified in that particular area/modality. I have a degree in Psychology and I am an empath so I can read humans very well. Whilst caring for Pickle I completed a diploma in cat care, welfare and behaviour to be able to understand her more. Then I completed a diploma in feline zoopharmacognosy (cat self-selection) and animal healing. I love to learn and expand my knowledge and awareness so over the years I have also completed crystal, chakra, aura, Reiki and Shamanic courses. All to help me connect and understand cats and their guardians even more. You can never stop learning.
Is there a difference between a cat whisperer, cat therapist and holistic cat therapist, and if there is, then what is the differences?
I think society can get tied up with labels and names. To be able to answer the question we would need to get a cat whisperer, cat therapist and holistic cat therapist in a room and see how they differ. Every person is unique, and therefore every job that is carried out by a person will be unique. Just because someone is called a builder doesn’t mean that we know straight away what services they offer. A label doesn’t mean anything at the end of the day, it’s about how we can help each other that matters.
Why would a cat parent need your services and expertise?
If they are having issues with their cat(s) and are experiencing a problem behaviour or feel at the end of their tether with their cat. They may feel they don’t understand their cat or know why they are doing what they are currently doing. I can help with a wide range of issues such as overgrooming, inappropriate toileting, aggression, anxiety, introductions and more. People will generally hire me to solve the problem cat behaviour but what usually ends up happening is that after I have worked with the cat, the human will have 1-2-1-sessions with me to explore their own hurt, issues and perspective. I offer healing, meditation and counselling support to all my clients. That’s why Naturally Cats offers ‘Holistic Help for Cats and their Guardians’. It isn’t just about the cat. It’s about the humans’ wounds, trouble and expectations. Cats absorb so much of our emotions that to really honour our cats we need to honour ourselves.
What were your reasons being establishing the brand Naturally Cats?
My mission is #givingcatsavoice. I want to change the worlds perception of cats. I want to wake people up and help them to see how amazing, sensitive, sentient and emotional cats are. There are so many misconceptions of cats and myths that need busting. I want to help people to re-connect with their cats. To understand their behaviour and the emotions behind it. I am an interspecies interpreter – helping humans to understand cats. I created Naturally Cats because at the time when Pickle was poorly, I couldn’t find someone who does what I do, supports veterinary care with complementary and alternative treatments. You can find an animal communicator, or a behaviourist but it’s rare to find someone that can do both. That’s why I created my brand, so people can have a holistic approach to cat care for their feline friend.
Please tell me about the Herb Gardens that are part of your treatment.
I use dried herbs and flowers to help cats. Remedies can support all of the key elements of wellbeing for a cat: Physical, Mental, Emotional and Spiritual. We have taken so much control away from our cats, we feed them at set times, we dictate where they can go in the home etc. I put down for Leo and advise all my clients to offer a herb garden. You put down a towel or blanket in a quiet area of the house and put a big pinch of a dried herb or flower in each corner. Then you sit back and watch. Let the cat enjoy the remedies. They may rub, roll, sit or ingest the remedies. It depends on what they need in any moment. Some cats will get all rolled up in the herbs and others may simply sit near them. Both the cat and the herbs have very subtle energies so even sitting near them can benefit the cat. One of my favourite remedies is Valerian Root, it is calming and also helps to reduce physical pain. Herb gardens are a natural way to give your cat a boost to its health and wellbeing. You are giving them a support mechanism to deal with stress or anxiety and it is a complementary treatment option without the need for medication.
What is the most common behaviour problem people struggle with?
There are so many ‘problem behaviours’ that people struggle with when it comes to cats. I have noticed that issues connected with anxiety or aggression are becoming more prevalent. Which aligns with the rise in human stress and anxiety in our modern world. In my opinion the problem doesn’t stem from cat nor human. It is a miscommunication between two different species. It’s like a conversation being held between someone who speaks only French and another who speaks only German. Things get lost in translation and can mean something different to each party. I try my best to help the guardian understand why the cat is performing a certain behaviour and also share the emotion behind such a reaction. For example, if a cat demonstrates high levels of aggression, I will help the guardian to look out for triggers and causes. Aggression is ultimately a crossing of boundaries, it’s the cat’s way of saying no. We need to listen and respect them.
Please tell me about a few challenges you faced in your career. Were you able to help the cat parents?
I have had very difficult cases in my career. This isn’t a job for the faint hearted. I would like to think that I can help every single cat but sadly that’s not the case. I had a client once who had an emergency situation with her son’s cat. We tried to help him but within 3 weeks he was put to sleep for unpredictable aggression. It broke my heart. In my heart I know that everything happens for a reason. I did the best I could for that cat and his guardian.
What are the biggest differences in cats’ and dogs’ behavioural psychologies?
I can’t comment on this as I have no experience working with dogs so I can’t compare the two. What I can say is that there are a lot of misconceptions about the attitude of cats that I am trying to change. People have issues with cat behaviours such as scratching, and they try to change the cat – we need to educate ourselves on the cats needs and then provide for them the best we can. Cats need to scratch, it’s a normal cat behaviour. Who are we to try and change them? We need to provide for them.
Do you believe cats should be kept indoors or also be allowed outdoors? Why?
This depends on every single cat and its circumstance. There is no right or wrong way. A guardian needs to take into account their own sense of comfort and ease. When we got our current rescue cat Leo, we were told he had to stay in for 6 months as he was very nervous and needed time to adjust and establish his territory in the home. We actually kept him in for 12 months because it took him longer to settle in. He now has access to outdoors during the day, but we shut the cat flap when the sun sets as we want to keep him in overnight. We live near local woods, and I don’t want him to be hurt by wildlife. If a guardian keeps their cat indoors it is crucial they provide enough stimulation and environment enrichment to fulfil the mental and physical needs of the cat.
What is the one thing a cat parent can do to make his/her/their home a better space for the cat to thrive in?
Put down a herb garden for the cat. Offering dried herbs and flowers is a wonderful, natural way to offer support to your cat. The remedies support the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical needs of the cat. For example, Calendula can help to boost self-confidence and also to reduce inflammation. Even if the cat has access to outdoors or a catio – a herb garden gives the cat the opportunity to cope with its day-to-day challenges of being a cat. It gives the cat a coping mechanism to support its wellbeing.
Touch experiences underlie our emotional states, says Steven Lindsay (US), a dog trainer and animal behaviourist based in Philadelphia. Lindsay explains that massage stimulates production of endorphins (or opioids), which are connected to feelings of pain, grief, fear, joy, etc. Touch is direct access to emotion, he says. How would you comment on that?
I think that’s a really interesting perspective. Massage for cats can be very beneficial and healing. But it needs to be conducted with the permission of the cat. Not all cats will tolerate touch. Just like humans. We should be asking our cats for permission to touch them. They are not here for our pleasure and enjoyment. You would respect a humans personal space and physical boundary if they shared it with you. In my opinion it is no different for cats. We should never force a cat to accept physical touch, unless medical intervention is required.
What is something you think more people need to know about sharing their life with cats?
Living with a cat can be a wonderful, deep, enriching experience if we choose to respect the cat as an individual. Each cat is different, just like humans… no two are the same. If we can catch our breath, come into the present moment and take a minute to really look at our cats. To see how they choose to interact with us. To see their quirks and uniqueness, we can have a profound connection with a different species that will stay in our hearts forever.
If you can give just one piece of advice in regards with cats what would it be?
Each cat is different. Learn to love your cat for the individual they are. Some cats are friendly, others not as trusting. Some cats like to hide away, others will be sat on your lap all day! Some cats like to connect with all humans and animals they come into contact with, for other cats they can only tolerate certain people or animals. We all have a duty to care for the cats that come into our lives. The best way we can do that is to acknowledge that each cat is perfect just as they are. We should turn our expectations into appreciation for our cats. If they rub your leg or give you an eye kiss – be grateful. Don’t dwell on the fact they don’t sit on your lap. Honour the connection you have with them and be grateful for the unique way they choose to interact with you. Each cat is a blessing just as they are.
Mieshelle Nagelschneider, an American cat behaviourist, has said: “Dogs are into their owners, but a cat is motivated by what’s in it for them,” she says. “If you scold a cat they won’t listen — in fact, it makes the problem worse.” How would you comment on that?
I agree with some of it. There is nothing to gain by scolding a cat. They don’t understand punishment, if you scold a cat you will only damage your relationship with them and create fear in them.
I don’t believe that cats are motivated by what’s in it for them. Cats are predator and pray animals so they can be on constant alert and will monitor their surrounds for potential threats to their survival and territory. If we really see our cats we will notice they are here to connect with us. To show us how we can grow and learn. How we can love and evolve simply by our relationship with them. Cats are emotional, loving, sentient beings. We simply need to take the time to see them.
Why does the word “cat lady” have a negative ring to it?
That’s a great question. It’s based on the stereotype of an old maid or spinster type woman only having cats for company. It’s so outdated. Sadly, it’s seen as a way to disparage women and cats. This is another one of those myths that need busting! Man or woman. Cat or dog. Ultimately, we are all souls – regardless of the physical body we inhabit. We are all one. We all come from love.